Are you living with the pain of temporomandibular joint dysfunction? You’re not alone. This condition, also known as TMD, affects millions of people around the world. Many individuals with TMD go through years without a diagnosis or have to deal with treatments that don’t bring long-term results.
But researchers at the University of California Irvine want to change that.
“One in four Americans live with some form of damage and dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint,” said Dr. Darin Ward, a Dallas, Texas, orthodontist.
The temporomandibular joints, or TMJs, are the joints that connect the lower jaw to the skull.
“These joints are tiny, but they play a big role in how you eat, chew and talk,” Ward said.
When the TMJs become damaged – from use, wear and tear or aging – it often translates into pain, jaw stiffness, ringing in the ears and head pain.
“Many people also experience unexplained ear pain, migraines, and tooth pain or tooth sensitivity as a result of TMD,” Ward said.
In most cases, however, the cause of TMD is an unbalanced bite.
“When your bite is not balanced, pressure on your joints is uneven,” Ward said.
Uneven pressure can further damage the TMJs and, if left untreated, can continue to destroy the joint.
Conventional treatments for TMD often include rest, a diet of soft foods and special exercises to help stretch the muscles around the TMJs.
Additionally, therapies, such as neuromuscular orthodontics; cold laser treatments; and dental restorations can help bring balance back to the bite.
These treatments can work for many individuals, but for severe cases, surgery may be the solution.
“Over time, the damage can become so severe, some individuals will require surgery,” Ward said.
This is where UC Irvine comes in. The research team on the study developed a biologically grown disc to serve as an artificial replacement for damaged or worn TMJs.
Artificial replacements for TMJs have been attempted before. During the 1980s, a Teflon joint was used to treat severe cases of TMD, but the joint replacement was taken off the market when it broke down, causing critical health issues in those treated.
The UC Irvine researchers developed their bio-replacement and tested it in the jaw of a pig. They observed that within two months, the pig’s jaw was functioning normally.
As a result of their success, the California researchers hope to produce the same results in larger animals and humans.
Source: University of California Irvine. “Engineers aim to pioneer tissue-engineering approach to TMJ disorders: Solutions have been hampered by past failures, proximity of jaw joint to brain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 March 2019.